and Anna Moray
It all began in 1907 on George Washington’s birthday – February 22nd – in the township of Mexia, Texas.
His mother named him, Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt.
At seven-years-old, Ernest began his wordly adventures in September
of 1914 when he traveled by himself, on a bus, from Mexia to Mandeville, Louisiana to live for the first time on his grandfather’s
plantation near Lake Pontchartrain across from New Orleans. Later in the same month he sailed with his grandfather on his
grandfather’s yacht from the Port of New Orleans to Port Antonio, Jamaica in the West Indies. The exciting, exotic and romantic
atmosphere of the Caribbean was to become quite familiar to the young boy, and Jamaica quickly became the scene of some of
Ernest’s early days of schooling. The opportunity to visit and live with family and friends in this strange, and at the time,
to Ernest, far away land, added flavor and inspiration to his developing mind. It was also when he first experienced fine
In his own words, Don the Beachcomber describes his grandfather:
Grandpappy often chased the young
servant girls around the plantation house. I suppose he thought he was in his prime, but he was actually almost seventy.
When he died, among those who knew him, none would have expected his life to have ended any other way. It’s only fitting
that it was a lovely belle like Anna Moray who led Grandpappy astray. The old man, that’s what I often called my grandpappy,
had taken an instant liking to Anna one hot afternoon while he was sipping a bottle of fine Jamaican rhum during one of our
jaunts to that lovely island. Anna was a vision if ever there was one, and I remember the day when my grandpappy hired her
away from the owner of a little Jamaican Bar. The old man had a natural twinkle in his eyes some older men seem to develop
with age. It would always brighten up a women’s heart and win her over. Despite Anna’s obvious mixed-race beauty and winning
smile, despite her perfect command of the English language, which indicated she wasn’t one of her country’s uneducated, and
despite the fact that Anna must have had numerous suitors, both welcome and unwelcome, Anna was no different from any other
woman Grandpappy took a liking to. Once he turned on the charm, Anna was his for the taking. The old man said he found it
difficult to keep his hands to himself. Anna was always quick enough to tease and escape without offending, but she was more
than eager to come to the United States. It was if the two of them were brought into this world for each other. The old
man’s natural gift of persuasion quickly caused Anna to take him up on his offer.
Anna thoroughly enjoyed her first cruise
through the islands of the Carribean. She had never been away from Jamaica, and she absolutely loved the view of the island
as seen from out at sea. She had no idea the land in which she was born and raised looked so enchanting and inviting from
the outside. But it wasn’t only Jamaica that enthralled Anna, it was all of the islands as Grandpappy sailed his yacht from
Santo Domingo and San Juan to Havana and up the Florida Keys.
Of course, I took great pride in America, and promptly puffed
up when we approached Miami. It was especially exciting this time for two reasons. Our return from previous voyages always
brought us into the country through the Port of New Orleans. Not only would this be my first visit to Ponce de Leon’s land
of eternal life, but I had Anna standing with me at the ship’s railing, listening intently, or so I thought, to my constant
babble about the wonderful way of life in the deep south.
My grandpappy certainly was a great talker and story teller,
and I suppose that’s where I got my gift of gab. I marveled at his natural instinct when it came to dealing with and winning
over someone, whether it be man, woman or child, whenever he came across an opportunity to make another friend. He was artistry
in motion, and none of it was put on. Oh, sure, there were those times when he deliberately used his natural talent on some
obnoxious human being, but only because that person had been such an ass in the first place. The old man found it much easier
to win the person over to his side, and then take advantage of them, all the while making them think everything was their
own idea when in actual fact it was Grandpappy all along.
When we reached the docks in Miami, Grandpappy gave the custom’s
guy a sob-story about Anna along with a C-note. Before long, the old man had purchased a new touring car and the three of
us, Grandpappy, Anna and me, were bound for his plantation near Lake Pontchartrain in Cajun Country while the rest of the
crew took the schooner home. It was a pleasure to watch the old man practice the art of wheeling and dealing to perfection
during the winters I spent with him. It was certainly a great education in the ways of human nature.
an import/export business in New Orleans, but after prohibition set in he also took up rum running. Had my mother known this,
I have serious doubts she would have allowed me to live with Grandpappy every winter. Grandpappy had convinced my mother
that I would receive a much better education in New Orleans than in Texas. Grandpappy paid for everything I needed at school.
Still, he expected just as much from me as any other member of his crew.
The old man knew a lot of people who thought
they were his friend, but it was his drinking cronies whom he would invite out to the plantation. He played his role of a
southern gentleman with charm and perfection. His thin, but muscular six foot frame, was always dressed in the whitest of
white suits money could buy. His equally white plantation hat sat properly tilted on his head, his naturally white hair sticking
out around the edges, his white goatee and mustache perfectly trimmed, his walking cane always at his side. Grandpappy told
me his hair began to turn white when he was in his early thirties. He’d copied his style from photographs, and used it strictly
for effect. His image was perfect, and it certainly matched his wonderful, even magical, personality.
The old man and
his cronies would get together by the oyster beds along the bank of the Mississippi River. Each guest would be given waders,
an apron with small pockets in the front containing fresh limes, picant sauce and an oyster knife. They would wade out into
the river, reach down for the fresh oysters, haul them up, add the condiments and wash them down with Grandpappy’s special
recipe for mint juleps. The whiskey had been aged for almost a month in an old wooden bucket that had not been washed out
since the day it was purchased. The mint, of course, was always freshly picked from the garden that morning. Along with
fine Cuban cigars, the mint juleps were served by Anna and two of the other girls on large, fine silver platters.
could easily outrun Grandpappy, but she loved to tease and playfully torment the old man. She would run just fast enough
to keep my grandpappy at bay until they had climbed the steps of the verandah, then she’d shyly give in and allow the old
man to get his seventy-year-old-arms around her, but not for long. Grandpappy would only have enough energy left to give
her a loving peck on the cheek before he would turn for his white rocking chair lest he keel over right there on the spot.
And that’s exactly what he did do one day. Poor Anna. She blamed herself for not having had enough sense to recognize his
frail condition. Anna must have cared for the old man a great deal because right after his death, she slipped into a great
despair and simply left the plantation one morning without saying a word. I never saw Anna again, and she didn’t get to hear
the reading of my grandpappy’s will, so I suppose her inheritance is still sitting in a bank account in New Orleans drawing
I idolized the old man. I’d learned so much from my grandpappy, having spent the winter school months with
him at his plantation and his house in New Orleans throughout most of my childhood. Grandpappy always said having me around
made him feel young again. And he certainly took pleasure in teaching me all he knew about business.
But it was sailing
on his yacht to Jamaica and the other islands of the Carribean that thrilled me the most. Grandpappy taught me at an early
age the difference between work and play, and he also taught me how to put the two of them together to make money. Of course,
play included practical jokes along with the fine art of pleasuring women.
The old man made certain I realized I was living
a life quite out of the ordinary, far different from the lives most people lived. Sailing the Carribean with my Grandpappy
and roaming the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans by myself seemed only natural, and I often felt different from
my childhood friends. The ways and language of the streets of New Orleans, and of the islands, was far from offensive to
my mind, and an education in itself.
But it was the travel that had me hook, line and sinker. I lusted for other islands
far away. Islands I had only heard tales of from sailors and drunks when grandpappy and I would reach a new port, or sit
in one of those old, broken-down bars Grandpappy loved in Haiti or Havana. Grandpappy was determined I would get an education
equal to one provided by any university in the world, but a much more practical one.